Tag Archives: forced adoption

Adoption Statistics

Discussion about what the statistics do or don’t tell us about the rise (or fall!) in adoption rates has grown considerably throughout 2015. Therefore we have removed this discussion from the Forced Adoption post to consider it separately here.

Those who campaign against ‘forced adoption’ maintain that the initial ‘targets’ to get children out of foster care and into permanent families has lead to a ‘trickle down’ effect so that SW target cute ‘adoptable’ children and initiate care proceedings to get them into the system and thus improve their ‘adoption hit rate’. If this is true, can we find any support for it in the data which is published about applications for various orders and the orders that are eventually made? 

 

Lies Damned Lies and Statistics – what do the figures say about adoption rates?

On 30th September 2014 the government issued a press release applauding the rise in adoption numbers. Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education said:

Today’s figures show a significant and sustained rise in the number of adoptions – an increase of 26% in the last 12 months. This means thousands more of our most vulnerable children are finding the loving and permanent homes they so desperately need.

We also promised to remove delay and frustration from the process for both children and adopters. Today’s figures show that we are delivering on that promise. The system is working more quickly, as well as providing more support to families after an adoption has taken place.

However, In November 2014 Sir Martin Narey raised concerns that since February 2014 LA decisions to pursue adoptions are down by 46% and number of placement orders granted by the courts has halved.

His concerns were so great that the National Adoption Leadership Board issued ‘myth busting’ guidance about what the court does or does not say about when adoption is necessary.

For further discussion see Pink Tape’s ‘Take me to your Leadership Board’.  We look at this issue in more detail in the post ‘When can the courts consider adoption is necessary?

It is clear that the Government remain committed to increasing the numbers of children in care being adopted and refer to the recent authorities as ‘set backs’. See this answer from the Prime Minister at Parliamentary Questions in 2015:

Hansard from Wed ( October 14th 2015 ) : Q4. [901524] Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): The Prime Minister recently spoke movingly and shockingly about the life of despair that still lies ahead for too many of our looked-after children.
Notwithstanding the vital work that has been done in recent years, will he expand on the reforms that he proposes for these, our most vulnerable citizens?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows a lot about this from the work he did in London when working for the Mayor.
I think that there are two areas we need to look at most of all. First, we need to speed up adoption processes. We should be reducing the number of children in care by ensuring that they can find loving family homes. We have made some progress, but frankly we have had set-backs, not least because of some of the judgments in our courts, so we need to get the level of adoption back up again. Secondly, we need to take some of the knowledge from our education reforms and use it to reform social services.

The rise and fall of adoption rates.

So there was no doubt that adoption rates were rising. But they are probably going to fall again given that decisions by LAs to pursue adoption have fallen by nearly half.

See further the excellent article by suesspiciousminds about newspaper reports in May 2015 concerning the ‘freefall’ in adoption rates after the ‘chilling effects’ of various cases. 

So have the anti forced adoption campaigners had an impact? Are they responsible for this fall by unmasking the truth behind ‘adoption targets’?

We believe the short answer to that question is ‘no’.  To consider this in more detail,  we need to look at the reasons behind the previous rise in the number of adoptions. There are a number of possible explanations:

  • First; that the governments plans to speed up adoption rates for the children already in care were working well; OR
  • LAs were generally under pressure to avoid another Baby P scandal and were pushing for adoption in cases where before a child might have returned home; OR
  • LAs were suffering the consequences of difficulties in recruitment and retention of social workers so cases were not being assessed as carefully as they should be; OR
  • LAs were deliberately targeting younger, more ‘adoptable’ children and social workers would lie to ensure the children’s removal from loving and blameless parents.

 

Can the statistics help us decide what’s been going on?

The danger with statistics is that often they can be used to prove any kind of argument you want. Some opponents of the system have at times offered quite contradictory views about what is going on – see this report from the Daily Mail in 2011 which asserted that adoption rates were falling because adoptive parents were afraid of being called paedophiles.

The blogger Second Daddy comments:

If you want to learn about Forced Adoption then look into it yourself, make your own mind up. If you want to see the raw figures for adoption in 2010, the year quoted by John Hemmings MP in the above Wikipedia article, it’s here. You’ll see that there were 4550 adoptions in England & Wales that year; John Hemmings stated that there were 1360 “Forced” adoptions that year, 29.89% of the total. 1000 of these he claims were “wrong”, 21.89% of the total, 73.53% of the “forced” adoptions. So a third of Adoptions are “forced”. That’s a fairly big number, and it is something we’re aware of and it is a concern, but. But. It’s a guess. With the greatest of respect, Mr Hemming has no idea how many of these were “wrong”. He pulled that figure out of his ass, he has no proof, just a hunch.

However, if it is true that local authorities are or have been targeting younger and hence more easily adoptable children to improve their adoption rates, we should expect to see that reflected in the statistics and we should be able to see a clear rise since 2000 of babies being taken into care and subsequently adopted.

 

We have found the following statistics.

Children in Care and Adoption

In 1976 4,000 babies were adopted. In 2011, 60 (according to the Daily Mail).

The article ‘Adoption Targets Row; the Sector Responds’ from 2007 in Community Care gives the following figures:

  • 2,490 under-fives in care were adopted in 2006, up from 1,010 in 1995.
  • 4,160 under-fives were first taken into care in 2006, up from 2,870 in 1995.
  • 1,300 babies aged younger than a month when they were taken into care were adopted in 2006, up from 540 in 1995.
  • The average age at adoption in 2006 was four years and one month.
  • 3,700 children were adopted from care in 2006, up from 2,700 in 2000.

So we can see there has been an increase in children being taken into care and being adopted over time from a low starting point, but that the average age for adoption in 2006 was over 4 years old. So 4 years after Hemming argues that babies are being targeted, this does not appear  to be reflected in the average age on adoption.

Compare this with statistics from 2013 

6% (4,310) of children looked after on 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
18% (12,360) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
19% (13,260) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
36% (24,450) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
20% (13,730) were aged 16 and over

The average age at adoption in the year ending 31st March 2013 was 3 years 8 months

2% (90) of children adopted during the year ending 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
74% (2,960) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
21% (850) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
2% (70) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
<1% (10) were aged 16 and over

So we see that only 6% of looked after children in March 2013 were under one year old.  Only 90  (2%) were under 1 year old when they were adopted. There is a small decrease from the average age at adoption in 2006 of 4 years 1 month, to 3 years 8 months in 2013 – six years later.

However, in 2013, 13 years after LAs were supposed to be targeting babies, across the country, they have only managed to get 90 babies adopted and the average age at adoption is nearly 4 years old.

On these figures, if there is a deliberate conspiracy to target and remove babies and young children, then the LAs are doing a pretty poor job.

In 2013 there were still 3 times as many children needing adoption as there were adoptive placements. This also points against any argument that care proceedings are targeting the ‘adoptable’ children – otherwise why are there so many children in care who can’t find adoptive families?

See further the article in Community Care;  ‘An ideological approach to adoption figures means we are missing important trends’.

Removal of new born babies

However, research by Karen Broadhurst at the University of Lancaster, in December 2015 has shown a significant increase in care proceedings involving removal of new born babies from mothers who have been involved in repeat care proceedings and have lost many proves children. She found a ‘disproportionate increase’ : from 802 in 2008 to 2,018 in 2013.

The research can be downloaded here.

 

What happens in care proceedings?

See these statistics from the second quarter of 2015. 

John Hemmings and others often asserts that almost all care proceedings result in care orders (and thus parents should leave the jurisdiction rather than engage with care proceedings).

Figure 3 shows the proportion of children subject to which final orders at the end of care proceedings. This does not support the assertion that ‘99%’ of applications for a care order end up with the child being removed from the parents or the wider family.

  • Care Order 30%
  • Supervision Order 18%
  • Residence 12%
  • Special Guardianship 14%
  • ‘Others’  11%

 

ITV Exposure Documentary

On 15th July 2014 barrister Martha Cover stated on the ITV documentary Exposure – Don’t take my child  that orders ‘permitting adoption’ had risen by 95% in the past three years.  This seemed high to us so we are very grateful to Andrew Pack for doing some digging and commenting:

Placement Order applications since 2011, and Placement Orders made by the Court since 2011.  These taken from the Court stats spreadsheets.

  • In 2011 – applications made 5821, orders made 5109.
  • In 2013 – applications made 7178, orders made 6082.

That’s about a 20% increase. Annoyingly, I don’t have the stats for 2010, which is presumably when Martha is calculating from, but I’d be REALLY surprised if it was as high as claimed. For that to be right, the applications in 2010 would need to have been around 3500… Interestingly, you can see a downturn on both in the last 6 months (i.e. since the Re B-S stuff was really percolating through) – and it is almost 50% down in the first quarter of this year from the high point.

I reckon the error here is in taking the numbers of children each year who are subject to Placement Orders, which is going up at a significant rate, as demand for placements outstrips supply and we add to the numbers each year with new cases, but also don’t clear the decks of the children the year before who needed placements.

A 20% increase in something as drastic as placement orders is still reason for concern, but it isn’t 95%, not by a long chalk.

Follow the money

You may be interested in these articles by Andrew Pack for more detailed consideration of whether it is possible that there  is a financial motive or incentive driving care proceedings.

He comments:

What I would say, for the ultra-cautious people, is that I would agree that the lack of transparency on ‘payments and adoption targets’ is deeply unhelpful and creates a genuine reason for people to feel sceptical, uncomfortable and unhappy. The absence of clarity and transparency is itself very shabby. It may or may not have distorted how many times adoption was recommended in final social work evidence, it may or may not have had an impact on individual people’s cases. At this point, we don’t have the evidence to draw a proper conclusion and that in itself is wrong. It creates at best, a fishy odour, and as we well know, “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”

The impact of the continuing ‘push’ for adoption

it will be interesting to see what impact the continuing ‘push for adoption’ has on statistics in the coming years. The PM made this comment in October 2015:

Hansard from Wed ( October 14th 2015 ) : Q4. [901524]

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): The Prime Minister recently spoke movingly and shockingly about the life of despair that still lies ahead for too many of our looked-after children. Notwithstanding the vital work that has been done in recent years, will he expand on the reforms that he proposes for these, our most vulnerable citizens?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows a lot about this from the work he did in London when working for the Mayor.I think that there are two areas we need to look at most of all. First, we need to speed up adoption processes. We should be reducing the number of children in care by ensuring that they can find loving family homes. We have made some progress, but frankly we have had set-backs, not least because of some of the judgments in our courts, so we need to get the level of adoption back up again. Secondly, we need to take some of the knowledge from our education reforms and use it to reform social services.For example, we need to see the best graduates going into social work.

 

Further reading about statistical trends

Forced Adoption

I am a passionate believer in the value of adoption in appropriate circumstances… But I fear that, in making all those orders, I never gave much attention to the emotional repercussions of them. In particular I fear that I failed fully to appreciate that an adoption order is not just a necessary arrangement for the upbringing of some children… the order is an act of surgery which cuts deep into the hearts and minds of at least four people and will effect them, to a greater or lesser extent, every day of their lives…

Lord Wilson Denning Society Lecture 13th November 2014

Forced adoption’  is a phrase we often hear used by people like Ian Josephs  and the former MP John Hemming  We have provided links to their sites under their names – but we hope that if you visit their sites, you will also stay here and read what we have to say.

See this post for discussion of the case law which judges have to consider before agreeing to any care plan for adoption. See this post for general discussion of the law around adoption and placement orders. 

 

The debate begins

Adoption, the means by which a child’s legal relationship with his birth parents is eliminated, did not become law in England and Wales until the Adoption Act 1926; some time after the USA, Australia and Canada. Many babies born out of marriage in the Victorian era were ‘farmed out’ or placed with married couples who would pretend the baby was their own.  There were increasing concerns about the lack of regulation of this private adoption industry which led to statutory intervention. Under the Local Government Act 1929, local authorities (LA) were given powers to remove children from parents, if the LA decided they could not care for them.

See this post from the Guardian giving a time line of the history of child protection. 

In 1968, 25,000 adoption orders were made, reflecting a society where illegitimacy was still stigmatised, birth control less reliable and welfare benefits less accessible.  In 2014 only about 5000 adoption orders were made. Adoptions now rarely involve babies.

The often highly polarised debate about ‘forced adoption’ and what this means for child protection work, gained increased traction around 2007 and became the focus of renewed attention towards the end of 2013. This followed discussion of Alessandra Pacchieri  (the ‘forced caesarean case’ ) and media interest in reports of parents wrongly suspected of abusing their children who were actually suffering from various medical conditions.

You can read comment on Ms Pacchieri’s case and the judgment here. The court made an adoption order in relation to her child in April 2014. The case is here. For an explanation of what sparked John Hemming’s interest in the child protection system, see ‘Hemming’s Way’ the article by Jonathan Gornall in 2007.

However, despite the enormous reduction in adoption orders over 40 years, the debate about the entire concept of adoption continues to grow. There have been serious concerns about the child protection system for many years. Those unhappy with the UK’s approach to ‘forced adoption’  raised their concerns in November 2014 with the European Parliament’s Petition Committee.

In fact, it was this 2013 ‘forced adoption’ debate that encouraged us to set up this resource as we were concerned that a lot of justifiable criticism about the system was getting lost or taken over by those who wanted to believe the more extreme ‘conspiracy theories’  – i.e. that the entire system was corrupt and that social workers are paid bonuses to snatch babies from loving homes.

For a sad example of the damage that can be done to a parent’s chances of keeping their family together, by  a ‘siege mentality’ and belief that concerns about their parenting are fuelled by a conspiracy, see Hertfordshire County Council v F & Others [2014] EWHC 2159.

We have attempted to debunk some of the more specific myths here and in particular the frequently made assertion that adoption targets exist to take babies away, rather than to promote finding adoptive families for children who have already been through care proceedings and don’t have a permanent home.

 

The Conspiracy Theory: Allegations of Systemic Corruption

People who are unhappy with the current child protection system often refer to it as a system of ‘forced adoption’ which is almost unique in Europe.

However, this assertion is not supported by the 2015 Report by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development from the Council of Europe which notes that adoptions without parental consent are possible in Andorra, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey.  A further 7 countries permit adoption without parental consent in ‘rare’ circumstances. See further, this post from the Transparency Project. See also this post from Claire Fenton-Glynn confirming that EVERY European country has a mechanism to provide for adoption without parental consent. 

They say that children are taken from parents for no good reason in order to meet LA’s ‘adoption targets’ set by various Governments and this is shown by the increased numbers of children being taken into care.

It is further alleged that family courts are secret and people who try to speak out will be sent to prison. Parents aren’t allowed to see the evidence against them and lawyers, experts and Judges are all in each other’s pockets and just rubber stamp the decisions made by the LA and social workers.

There are many on line groups for parents who are convinced that their children were removed on the basis of deliberate lies. The view expressed here is typical:

UK Social Services/CAFCASS are the most prolific and serious perpetrators of Domestic Violence in the country. UK Family Law Courts a close second. One day, history lessons will describe the horrific details of what is happening to families all across the country. The descendants of those who have perpetrated this abuse, will be ashamed of their ancestors and try to distance themselves from them….

Worries about social work practice come from a variety of sources. Colin Brewer wrote in the Spectator in the aftermath of the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal:

The Rotherham report suggests, as June and I suggested 34 years ago, that social workers excel at empathy but lack the ability to carry out ‘coherently planned action’. Social work with troubled teenagers is doubtless even more challenging today than it was in the 1980s, yet the report’s conclusions reveal many of the unhelpful institutional and ideological features that we identified are still with us…

It seems these were not just individual failures, occasional and regrettable exceptions in a generally efficient professional culture, but a persistent feature of a profession that emphasises doing good rather than doing it efficiently. This happens despite the fact that social workers have relatively modest case loads, especially compared with doctors.

These are not fanciful concerns. We should all be interested in the state of our child protection services. However, while we accept that sadly there have been serious examples of injustice we don’t accept that this is a result of deliberate corruption within the system itself, or chasing after ‘adoption targets’.

What is clear is that a growing number of people DO believe exactly that. We need to understand why and what we can do about it.

 

Adoption Targets: How did this belief take hold?

In 2000, the government introduced a national target to increase the number of children adopted from care by at least 40% between 1999-2000 and 2004-5. Tony Blair had been horrified by the numbers of children who remained in care for long periods of time without a permanent home.

Therefore, these were not targets to take children from their homes in order to get them adopted but a well intentioned attempt to help children who were already in the care system and hadn’t been found a permanent home.

Claire Fenton-Glynn describes the situation in her study on the UK system, presented to the European Parliament in June 2015:

The Prime Minister’s Review of Adoption in 2000 put forward the belief that the system was not delivering the best for children, as decisions about how to provide a secure, stable and permanent family were not addressed early enough. As such, it advocated an increase in the use of adoption to provide children with permanency at an earlier stage. The Review gave the opinion that there was too great a focus on rehabilitation with the birth family, at the expense of the child’s welfare. It emphasised that the first choice should always be a return to the birth family, but where this was clearly not an option, adoption should be seen as a key means of providing permanence. Foster care, on the other hand, was viewed as a transitional measure, which should be used only as a temporary option.

Following on from this, the government produced a White Paper entitled Adoption: A New Approach, which outlined the government’s plan to promote the wider use of adoption for looked after children, establishing the target of increasing adoption by 40-50 per cent by 2004-2005.39 The White Paper also announced that the government would require local authorities to make a plan for permanence – returning home, placement for adoption, or special guardianship40 – for a child within 6 months of being continuously looked after.

It was in this context that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 was introduced, with the explicit aim of promoting the greater use of adoption. The Act changed the process of adoption itself, by making the welfare of the child the paramount consideration for courts and adoption agencies in all decisions relating to adoption, including in deciding whether to dispense with the birth parents’ consent to adoption.

The Government’s official position about targets to get children taken into care is clear: they don’t exist. Matthew Dalby of  the Ministerial and Public Communications Division of the Department of Education said in October 2014, in response to an email from a parent:

I must explain that there are no targets on the numbers of children in care. In fact the law is clear in that children should live with their parents wherever possible and that families should be given extra support to help keep them together. In most cases, support from the local authority (LA) enables concerns to be addressed and children to remain with their families.

The Transparency Project responded in September 2015 to John Hemming’s assertion that the London Borough of Merton has ‘targets’ to take children from their birth families. There are certainly concerns that ‘key performance indicators’ promoting adoption could risk impacting on the integrity of decision making for individual children; the Transparency Project is investigating further and has made a number of FOI requests to other local authorities; watch this space.

Judicial response to allegations of systemic corruption

John Hemming raised very specific allegations about the corruption in the family courts in the case of RP v Nottingham [2008] which were rejected by Wall LJ as being without evidence:

97. It is plain to me from these documents, that in addition to the allegations set out above, Mr. Hemming believes that HJ was in the pay of the local authority and thus was “the local authority’s expert”. For good measure, he asserts that the system is “evil” and that “there does seem to be little concern in the legal profession about the reliability of opinion offered in court.”. The clear implication behind the “witch findings” items on the website set out at paragraph 95 above is that “experts” like HJ are in it for the money; that they are happy to “manufacture ‘evidence'”; and that they are in receipt of “phoney” letters of instruction. The result, Mr Hemming asserts is a “disaster”.

98. In my judgment, these comments are not only wrong and ill-informed; the simple fact remains that they have no foundation in the evidence presented either to the Nottingham County Court or to this court. That they are made publicly by Mr Hemming once again strikes me as an abuse of his position.

Wall LJ went on to say at para 127:

In my judgment, the arguments advanced by Mr Hemming in this case are ill-informed and tendentious. They are contradicted by the evidence, and must be rejected. I think this most unfortunate. Nobody who works in the Family Justice System regards it as perfect: most of us see it as under-resourced and struggling to deal with the work loads thrust upon it. Constructive criticism, particularly from those in a position to bring about change, is to be welcomed. I am myself in no doubt that the system must change and adapt, and I have spoken many times in public in support of my belief that there needs to be greater transparency in order to combat the partial, tendentious and inaccurate criticisms made against the system. I therefore welcome the opportunity provided by this case to demonstrate that the system has operated properly, and that the criticisms made are unfounded.

Rejection of the official position

However, following the introduction of targets to speed up finding a home for children in care, some then argue that the ‘law of unintended consequences’  came into play and these targets acted to promote undesirable behaviour from those in the child protection system.

John Hemming has argued that these targets did little to help the older children already in care but rather had the effect of encouraging local authorities to issue care proceedings with regard to more ‘adoptable’ children so they would filter through the system, end up adopted quickly and improve the adoption rates.

This was denied at the time; see this report from BBC News On Line in 2008:

The Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan has denied claims that young children are being taken into care by local authorities to meet adoption targets. Mr Brennan has written to two national newspapers to say there has never been any financial incentive for councils to meet national adoption targets. The claims surfaced over the case of a baby in Nottingham placed into care just hours after being born. Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has accused the council of baby-stealing.

In a letter to The Times and The Daily Mail, Mr Brennan says there were national adoption targets designed to place more children in care into loving, family homes. But, he writes, “they ended in 2006; and there was never a financial incentive for local authorities to meet these national targets.”

The belief that children are removed from loving homes in order for LA’s to meet their ‘adoption targets’ persists to date.  There is no doubt that this version of events feels very ‘right’ to a significant number of people.

As Claire Fenton-Glynn comments:

While national adoption targets were set for some years, these ceased in 2006. The government emphasised that targets were intended to make sure more children who had been adjudged to need an adoptive placement were found permanent homes. They were not intended to affect the judgment of whether the child was in need of an adoption. However, despite the government’s statements, there is a danger that such targets do impact on such an evaluation, or at the very least, create the perception that they do so. Moreover, the government’s focus on adoption risks disadvantaging those children in care for whom adoption is not suitable. In the year ending 31 March 2014, only 16% of children who left the English care system were adopted, with others returning home, being placed with relatives, or with a special guardian, among other options. As such, an excessive focus on adoptive placements can mean that these others do not receive sufficient attention.

So what is really going on?

There are a number of elements we need to look at to try and work out whether assertions about a deliberately corrupt system contain any truth. Without doubt, the child protection system is not working well. We need to think more deeply why that is.

  • The continuing and repeating pressures on the child protection system which lead to growing distrust between parents and professionals;
  • The cost of care proceedings – why would a LA bear these costs without very good reason?
  • What do the statistics tell us about adoption rates for babies or very young children?
  • Adoption rates are now set to fall in the aftermath of the judgment in Re B-S.

 

A system under pressure

Helping children is a human process. When the bureaucratic aspects of work become too dominant, the heart of the work is lost.

The Munro Review of Child Protection Final Report

We consider the  history of concerns about the child protection system in more detail in this post. In brief, it seems that for very many years the system has become overwhelmed by the demands placed upon it. Excessive bureaucracy, dangerously high caseloads and low morale amongst social workers combine to work against good decision making and protecting children.

Some argue that it is the Children Act 1989 itself that has contributed to the problems, as it has pushed the law into ever less measurable levels of ‘abuse’ rather than setting out realistically measurable standards to govern the protection of children.

The fact that the system is under considerable strain and pressure is a serious problem for us all – but it is not evidence of deliberate malignity on the part of those decision makers.

 

The cost of care proceedings

It seems odd to suggest that LA deliberately set out to target children to adopt to ‘make money’ when you consider just how much care proceedings will cost them.  Research from the University of Bristol in 2011 said this:

Bringing care proceedings is a costly and time consuming business for local authorities. It has been estimated that each care case takes up 20 per cent of a full-time social worker’s working hours for a year (Plowden 2009). In addition, the local authority will have to contribute towards independent assessments ordered by the court and may need to instruct barristers (counsel) to represent it at court. In order to ensure that proceedings are used only where the local authority can prove its case and court orders are required, as well as to control expenditure, local authorities have established internal procedures for approving court applications. Legal advice and senior management approval are generally required even where an application if made for an order to remove or detain a child in an emergency (Masson et al 2007; DCSF 2008, para 3.3).

However, some will assert that the cost of care proceedings is actually an illustration of the problem – it’s a ‘gravy train’, keeping lawyers, social workers and experts in employment.  So if the financial burden on the LA does not reassure people that care proceedings are not taken lightly, what can we see from the statistics about children taken into care?

If Hemming and others are right, we should see a clear rise from 2000 in the number of babies or very young children taken into care and then adopted.

 

Lies, damned lies and statistics

See here for government statistics regarding looked after children. For more discussion of statistics put forward by John Hemming in August 2015, see these posts from the Transparency Project. The Full Fact Organisation considered the statistics in October 2015.

The statistics do NOT support an argument that more babies and young ‘adoptable’ children have been targeted since 2000, although it is clear that the number of children being adopted has been rising.

On 30th September 2014 the government issued a press release applauding this. Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education said:

Today’s figures show a significant and sustained rise in the number of adoptions – an increase of 26% in the last 12 months. This means thousands more of our most vulnerable children are finding the loving and permanent homes they so desperately need.

We also promised to remove delay and frustration from the process for both children and adopters. Today’s figures show that we are delivering on that promise. The system is working more quickly, as well as providing more support to families after an adoption has taken place.

However, In November 2014 Sir Martin Narey raised concerns that since February 2014 LA decisions to pursue adoptions are down by 46% and number of placement orders granted by the courts has halved.

His concerns were so great that the National Adoption Leadership Board issued ‘myth busting’ guidance about what the court does or does not say about when adoption is necessary.

For further discussion see Pink Tape’s ‘Take me to your Leadership Board’.  We look at this issue in more detail in the post ‘When can the courts consider adoption is necessary?

 

The rise and fall of adoption rates.

So there was no doubt that adoption rates were rising. But they are probably going to fall again given that decisions by LAs to pursue adoption have fallen by nearly half.

See further the excellent article by suesspiciousminds about newspaper reports in May 2015 concerning the ‘freefall’ in adoption rates after the ‘chilling effects’ of various cases. 

So have the anti forced adoption campaigners had an impact? Are they responsible for this fall by unmasking the truth behind ‘adoption targets’?

We believe the short answer to that question is ‘no’.  To consider this in more detail,  we need to look at the reasons behind the previous rise in the number of adoptions. There are a number of possible explanations:

  • First; that the governments plans to speed up adoption rates for the children already in care were working well; OR
  • LAs were generally under pressure to avoid another Baby P scandal and were pushing for adoption in cases where before a child might have returned home; OR
  • LAs were suffering the consequences of difficulties in recruitment and retention of social workers so cases were not being assessed as carefully as they should be; OR
  • LAs were deliberately targeting younger, more ‘adoptable’ children and social workers would lie to ensure the children’s removal from loving and blameless parents.

 

Can the statistics help us decide what’s been going on?

The danger with statistics is that often they can be used to prove any kind of argument you want. Some opponents of the system have at times offered quite contradictory views about what is going on – see this report from the Daily Mail in 2011 which asserted that adoption rates were falling because adoptive parents were afraid of being called paedophiles.

The blogger Second Daddy comments:

If you want to learn about Forced Adoption then look into it yourself, make your own mind up. If you want to see the raw figures for adoption in 2010, the year quoted by John Hemmings MP in the above Wikipedia article, it’s here. You’ll see that there were 4550 adoptions in England & Wales that year; John Hemmings stated that there were 1360 “Forced” adoptions that year, 29.89% of the total. 1000 of these he claims were “wrong”, 21.89% of the total, 73.53% of the “forced” adoptions. So a third of Adoptions are “forced”. That’s a fairly big number, and it is something we’re aware of and it is a concern, but. But. It’s a guess. With the greatest of respect, Mr Hemming has no idea how many of these were “wrong”. He pulled that figure out of his ass, he has no proof, just a hunch.

However, if it is true that local authorities are or have been targeting younger and hence more easily adoptable children to improve their adoption rates, we should expect to see that reflected in the statistics and we should be able to see a clear rise since 2000 of babies being taken into care and subsequently adopted.

 

We have found the following statistics.

In 1976 4,000 babies were adopted. In 2011, 60 (according to the Daily Mail).

The article ‘Adoption Targets Row; the Sector Responds’ from 2007 in Community Care gives the following figures:

  • 2,490 under-fives in care were adopted in 2006, up from 1,010 in 1995.
  • 4,160 under-fives were first taken into care in 2006, up from 2,870 in 1995.
  • 1,300 babies aged younger than a month when they were taken into care were adopted in 2006, up from 540 in 1995.
  • The average age at adoption in 2006 was four years and one month.
  • 3,700 children were adopted from care in 2006, up from 2,700 in 2000.

So we can see there has been an increase in children being taken into care and being adopted over time from a low starting point, but that the average age for adoption in 2006 was over 4 years old. So 4 years after Hemming argues that babies are being targeted, this does not appear  to be reflected in the average age on adoption.

Compare this with statistics from 2013 

6% (4,310) of children looked after on 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
18% (12,360) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
19% (13,260) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
36% (24,450) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
20% (13,730) were aged 16 and over

The average age at adoption in the year ending 31st March 2013 was 3 years 8 months

2% (90) of children adopted during the year ending 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
74% (2,960) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
21% (850) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
2% (70) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
<1% (10) were aged 16 and over

So we see that only 6% of looked after children in March 2013 were under one year old.  Only 90  (2%) were under 1 year old when they were adopted. There is a small decrease from the average age at adoption in 2006 of 4 years 1 month, to 3 years 8 months in 2013 – six years later.

However, in 2013, 13 years after LAs were supposed to be targeting babies, across the country, they have only managed to get 90 babies adopted and the average age at adoption is nearly 4 years old.

On these figures, if there is a deliberate conspiracy to target and remove babies and young children, then the LAs are doing a pretty poor job.

In 2013 there were still 3 times as many children needing adoption as there were adoptive placements. This also points against any argument that care proceedings are targeting the ‘adoptable’ children – otherwise why are there so many children in care who can’t find adoptive families?

See further the article in Community Care;  ‘An ideological approach to adoption figures means we are missing important trends’. 

 

ITV Exposure Documentary

On 15th July 2014 barrister Martha Cover stated on the ITV documentary Exposure – Don’t take my child  that orders ‘permitting adoption’ had risen by 95% in the past three years.  This seemed high to us so we are very grateful to Andrew Pack for doing some digging and commenting:

Placement Order applications since 2011, and Placement Orders made by the Court since 2011.  These taken from the Court stats spreadsheets.

  • In 2011 – applications made 5821, orders made 5109.
  • In 2013 – applications made 7178, orders made 6082.

That’s about a 20% increase. Annoyingly, I don’t have the stats for 2010, which is presumably when Martha is calculating from, but I’d be REALLY surprised if it was as high as claimed. For that to be right, the applications in 2010 would need to have been around 3500… Interestingly, you can see a downturn on both in the last 6 months (i.e. since the Re B-S stuff was really percolating through) – and it is almost 50% down in the first quarter of this year from the high point.

I reckon the error here is in taking the numbers of children each year who are subject to Placement Orders, which is going up at a significant rate, as demand for placements outstrips supply and we add to the numbers each year with new cases, but also don’t clear the decks of the children the year before who needed placements.

A 20% increase in something as drastic as placement orders is still reason for concern, but it isn’t 95%, not by a long chalk.

  • Andrew has commented further about statistics in this post for the Transparency Project.
  • To see government data showing the speed at which Local Authorities place children for adoption see these statistics from January 2014.

 

Follow the money

You may be interested in these articles by Andrew Pack for more detailed consideration of whether it is possible that there  is a financial motive or incentive driving care proceedings.

He comments:

What I would say, for the ultra-cautious people, is that I would agree that the lack of transparency on ‘payments and adoption targets’ is deeply unhelpful and creates a genuine reason for people to feel sceptical, uncomfortable and unhappy. The absence of clarity and transparency is itself very shabby. It may or may not have distorted how many times adoption was recommended in final social work evidence, it may or may not have had an impact on individual people’s cases. At this point, we don’t have the evidence to draw a proper conclusion and that in itself is wrong. It creates at best, a fishy odour, and as we well know, “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”

See also our post on the issue of bonuses paid to social workers.

 

Why we reject the allegation of systemic corruption

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

The court judgments, culminating in Re B-S that have so concerned Martin Narey were right to point out the dangers of sloppy analysis. But why had some cases got into such a mess?  Because the system was ‘evil’, the social workers were telling lies to get their bonuses and that all the lawyers and judges closed their eyes to this because its actually a government policy?

Or is it more likely , that what we have is a child protection system that is often inefficient and/or overwhelmed by case loads? where mistakes are made, but rarely due to deliberate malice?

The conspiracy theories take hold because they feel ‘right’ to a lot of people who may have good cause to feel that they have not been listened to or treated fairly. This can lead people to  be unable or unwilling to consider a reality which does not accord with their strongly held perceptions:

People say: “Let the facts speak for themselves”; they forget that the speech of facts is real only if it is heard and understood. It is thought to be an easy matter to distinguish between fact and theory, between perception and interpretation. In truth, it is extremely difficult.

For further fascinating discussion about the impact of cognitive bias and how hard it is to get people to abandon their narratives, even if they are based on a false premise, see this article ‘Your Brain is Primed to Reach False Conclusions’.

 

What is our reality?

We have not been able to find evidence to support the assertion that the child protection system is designed and maintained deliberately to be corrupt or ‘evil’. Recent research from Cafcass says that LAs were right to make applications for care orders in 80% of cases they reviewed.

But that of course does not mean the system is perfect. Far from it. If 80% of cases are ‘right’ we still have 20% which are not and that is worrying. There are also serious concerns that an ideological ‘push’ for adoption is masking proper consideration of statistical trends.

We agree with that justice needs to be seen to be done and there should be as much openness as possible about such serious matters.

  • We accept that there can be serious consequences when a system is overwhelmed by cases; individual practitioners may lack support, and there is a risk of bad or even no decisions getting made. There is a particularly sad example of that in the case of A and S in 2012 where the boys’ Independent Reviewing Officer had a case load three times in excess of that recommended by good practice.
  • Sometimes mistakes are made because lawyers and doctors got it wrong about the medical evidence. Here is an example of a case where the court decided there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that a child suffered non accidental injuries as this child also had rickets due to Vitamin D deficiency.
  • There is no doubt that the Government wishes to speed up the adoption process and there are legitimate concerns about how the new Children and Families Act 2014 will operate. See further this article by Cathy Ashley of the Family Rights Group and here for the views of Barnados on the need to speed up adoptions.
  • We note the conclusions of the the Report of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Council of Europe which was concerned by the high numbers of children in England and Wales who were adopted without parental consent, and commented (see para 74) that the UK’s refusal to reverse adoption orders where there had been a miscarriage of justice was a ‘misunderstanding’ of the best interests of the child, who had a right to return to his birth family.
  • Possibly the most serious problem is that social workers in child protection work are asked to wear ‘two hats’ at the same time – they are tasked with supporting families at the same time as they are gathering evidence against them. The tension and difficulties inherent in this dual role are obvious. See Wrennall, L. 2004 Miscarriages of Justice in Child Protection: a brief history and proposals for change.

But what we don’t accept is that these problems – as serious as they undoubtedly are – can legitimately lead to a conclusion that the whole system is corrupt and operating to ‘steal children’ to meet government endorsed targets.

We think it would be a great shame for children and parents if legitimate debate about problems in the system is overwhelmed by allegations that have no basis in fact and which serve only to make parents even more worried and frightened about what the system might ‘do’ to them and their children.

 

The Way Forward.

However, we accept that it is odd, if adoption really is the ‘gold standard’ for children that other jurisdictions do not seem to share the UK’s enthusiasm for adoption without the parents’  consent.

We should always be open to more discussion and debate about what we should be doing to secure the welfare of children.

You may be interested in this post describing the different approach in Finland, where children who are taken into care will Iive with foster families or in institutional care.  
You may also be interested in this article by an adoptive parent in the Guardian from 2012, discussing the difficulties caused by lack of post adoption support.
There are also concerns expressed by adoptive parents that they haven’t been given the full picture about their children’s backgrounds and this has caused enormous problems for the family. 

  • We agree that everyone who works in the system should be aware of the dangers of an insular or paternalistic approach to child protection issues.
  • We agree that adoption may not be the best plan for every child and there should not be an automatic assumption that adoption is best. There is an interesting article criticising ‘adoption driven systems’ here.
  • However, we think for many children subject to a final care order, it will represent their best chance of achieving a stable and loving home throughout their childhood.
  • We agree that placements with family members should continue to be investigated thoroughly.
  • We also agree that we need more consideration to how we support adoptive placements after an order is made as studies show the breakdown rates for adoptions can be as high as 25%. There is interesting research from the US here which looks at rates of adoption disruption and why they break down. Research published on April 9th 2014 by the University of Bristol offers another perspective on adoption disruption rates, concluding that they are low but emphasising the importance of post adoption support, particularly for older and more challenging children.
  • Social workers need more help to deal with the bureaucracy of their job, so they can focus on working with and supporting families – the ‘reclaiming social work’ model needs wider implementation.
  • What we don’t agree with is a debate that polarises around the term ‘forced adoption’ and politicians who advise parents to leave the country rather than engage with social workers.
  • Where we all hopefully agree is that every child has the right to grow up in a safe home and that any child protection investigation must be carried out quickly and fairly.

We hope this site can be part of sharing resources and information to promote open and honest debate about the child protection system.

You can read here about government sponsored research into the reasons why people are motivated to adopt or foster.

You may also be interested in what we say about post adoption contact.

 

 

Key Messages from the Department of Education Research

The Department of Education published ‘Adoption Cases Reviewed: an indicative study of process and practice’ in 2013 which provides a comprehensive review of contested adoption proceedings. Its key messages are set out below. While the review certainly did not find that everything was perfect, it did not conclude there was any evidence of systemic corruption or orders made for trivial reasons:

  • The study confirmed routine local authority and judicial compliance with the required procedural and legal framework for adoption. Parents’ rights to due process in contesting and opposing care, placement and adoption applications were ensured. Decisions were taken by the court in an appropriate way, following the full testing of evidence.
  • Local authority practice in the study cases pre-dated current statutory guidance, in which permanence is required to provide the framework for all social work with children and families. Where it lacked this perspective, social work intervention could not be relied upon to pursue effectively the protection and care planning that might have secured child safety on a permanent basis at home.
  • In addition, quality assurance of child protection and care planning was insufficiently robust.
  • Where risk assessment and protection and care planning lacked confidence and decisiveness, the right of the child to have a safe and permanent family life secured in a timely way could be compromised. Similarly, the right of parents to effective intervention to help them make necessary changes could be neglected where permanence principles were not applied equally to the process of rehabilitation.
  • While no clear pattern of contestation emerged in these cases parents often argued that the local authority had sought merely to gather evidence to make the case against them, rather than intervene purposefully to support the changes required to keep the child safely at home.
  • Extensive use of independent expert evidence and advice provided a guarantee that harm and risk had been assessed fully and decisions appropriately informed, once the case was in proceedings. However, the use of experts also caused duplication and delay. Current proposals for reform will need to ensure such evidence is deployed effectively within the sharper case management regime.
  • This study suggests that the enhancement and quality assurance of the expertise and effectiveness of social work within the inter-agency system should attract policy attention. Timely and proportionate decision making is undermined as much by lack of case management continuity and of grip in making a judgement about parents’ capacity to change in the local authority as it is in the court.
  • The reform process should be underpinned by a review of the philosophy, organisation and support of local authority case management in protection and care planning, to ensure reliability of compliance with current statutory guidance that a permanence perspective is employed as a matter of routine.
  • The reform process should also include a review of the availability and effectiveness of post-placement support for birth parents in all forms of permanent placement, including placement at home.

 

Censorship and the protection of commercial interests – the woeful state of our debate about protecting children.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore
On the morning of Friday August 21st I posted a comment on the Marilyn Stowe blog after the former MP John Hemming had written a guest post about adoption statistics. The biography attached to his post described him simply as a highly educated and respectable former MP and councillor. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, silent as to any of his other activities which have caused me and many others serious concern over the years.

My comment on this piece, about the need to be aware of and alert to these activities of Mr Hemming, led to an invitation from that site’s owner to contribute a guest post. I was happy to do so as the issues I wished to raise are, in my view, serious and significant.

Later that day I received an edited version of my post and was asked to accept the revisions made. I did not receive that email until fairly late on Friday evening. It was not until sometime later that I was able to sit down and give these revisions my full attention. When I did, I was unpleasantly surprised by what I found.

Of course, it is entirely up to Ms Stowe what she permits on her blog. I cannot dictate to her what she publishes. But I am very unhappy to note that significant portions of what I wrote have been removed, despite everything that I had written being

  • true
  • highly relevant to my argument and
  • already published elsewhere and well and truly in the public domain.

Most concerningly, a sentence from the judgment of Wall LJ in RP v Nottingham had been removed.

 

Search Engine Optimisation versus open and honest debate

I queried this via email and was told that the site would be penalised in its google rankings by relying on links to other sites in the way that I had done and the commercial interests of the site must be protected.

As I pointed out in reply, it is difficult to see how including the final sentence of a paragraph from a judgment from Wall LJ would have negative implications for any Google rankings. Ms Stowe was also happy to include a link to my own site when discussing an article about other European countries, but would not include a link to a post setting out the connections between Hemming, Josephs and Booker.

I commented further:

I think this is a very important issue – either you are unable to post relevant information because it may damage the site’s commercial interests OR there is some other reason, as yet undisclosed to me, as to why this information can’t be published by you.
I am pretty ignorant of SEO issues and how Google issues penalties, so I will take your word about that. But I will remain very puzzled why the words of a former President of the Family Division in any way are relevant to issues of Google ranking and protecting your site’s commercial viability.
And it does of course raise a wider and even more important issue about how the necessary debate about the child protection system is best served if such an important and well respected source such as yourself, finds itself unwilling to discuss certain issues because they may impact on the commercial interests of the site.
Are your readership aware of these potential constraints? I certainly wasn’t.
[EDIT I have just received an email from Marilyn Stowe to say that they are going to ‘call it a day’ and will not publish my post. I have received no further clarification about why the edits to my post were required or necessary, other than that it is the policy of the blog to be ‘non confrontational’]

I am left in this rather uncomfortable position. If the reason given for the editing is correct, then information which is a) true b) relevant and c) in the public domain is being excluded from the debate on the site, to protect its google rankings and its commercial interests. However, I am unable to accept that as a reason for censoring a quotation from a judgment of a High Court Judge.

So what was I trying to say that wasn’t fit to publish?

I will set out my original post below and the edits and you can make your own minds up about the reasons for editing. But whatever the reasons, this cannot be the way to conduct the necessary open and honest debate about the child protection system that is needed now, more than ever.

I of course am happy to provide a right to reply to anyone I discuss in my posts. I am happy to be educated further about the impact of Search Engine Optimisation tactics on internet debate. I would also be delighted to know that Mr Hemming is prepared to renounce his links with Ian Josephs and Christopher Booker and to put his obvious drive and intelligence to better use.

But unless and until he does that, if he wishes to position himself as a credible and reliable voice in this crucial debate, others are entitled to have the fullest possible information about what he actually believes, with whom he associates and the risks they pose.

I set out my original piece below and will indicate in the text in bold what has been removed or altered. I have not included the minor edits regarding a choice of word or phrasing. It is the wholesale removal of pertinent facts to which I very strongly object.

 

Open and honest debate about the child protection system is needed now more than ever.

I am a family law barrister of 15 years experience and the site administrator of www.childprotectionresource.org.uk which was set up on 2014 in an attempt to provide accurate information to all those involved in the child protection system.

This guest post arises out of another guest post published on this site by John Hemming. 

On the face of it, this post looks like a respectable attempt to analyse statistics around the number of children adopted in the UK. I accept now, and have accepted for years, that we urgently need an open and honest debate about what is really going on in our child protection system.

Although Mostyn J (and many others) are simply wrong to opine that there are ‘only’ 3 (or even no other) systems in Europe that permit forced adoption – see this post from Claire Fenton Glynn – it is true that England and Wales are by far the most enthusiastic proponents of ‘forced adoption’ of all Council of Europe member states and we are entitled – even morally obligated – to discuss this and to understand why.

However, just because the debate is necessary and important, does not mean we should not take care about who is contributing to it and what they are saying.

I have been concerned for many years about the motivations of many of those prominent figures in the debate and the impact they are having. Mr Hemming is described in this guest post as a highly educated and respectable former city councillor and MP.

But there is another side I think it is important to share. Disclaimer: My run ins with Mr Hemming now extend to four years of internet debate. He has made formal complaint about me to the Bar Council (not upheld) and gave an interview to the Daily Mail following his expulsion from the mumsnet website in 2014, which curiously felt it appropriate to publish both my real name and my mumsnet user name side by side. It is entirely possible that my dislike for what I perceive as Mr Hemming’s tactics of intimidation, [this has been edited to read: ‘it is entirely possible that my dislike for Mr Hemming’s tactics…] means I am not able to take a dispassionate view about his activities.

Therefore I present to others the facts so that they may make up their own minds.

The family law system as ‘evil’.

A good starting point to understand why Mr Hemming has nominated himself as a crusader against the ‘evil’ family justice system can be found in Jonathan Gornall’s article in 2007. Mr Hemming then repeated his allegations about the ‘evil’ and corruption of the family justice system to Wall LJ in the case of RP v Nottingham in 2008

It is plain to me from these documents, that in addition to the allegations set out above, Mr. Hemming believes that HJ was in the pay of the local authority and thus was “the local authority’s expert”. For good measure, he asserts that the system is “evil” and that “there does seem to be little concern in the legal profession about the reliability of opinion offered in court.”. The clear implication behind the “witch findings” items on the website set out at paragraph 95 above is that “experts” like HJ are in it for the money; that they are happy to “manufacture ‘evidence’”; and that they are in receipt of “phoney” letters of instruction. The result, Mr Hemming asserts is a “disaster”.
98. In my judgment, these comments are not only wrong and ill-informed; the simple fact remains that they have no foundation in the evidence presented either to the Nottingham County Court or to this court. That they are made publicly by Mr Hemming once again strikes me as an abuse of his position.[This sentence has been entirely removed with no warning or indication to the reader that Wall JL’s paragraph has actually been cut short]

This remains Mr Hemming’s position in 2015

Mr Hemming repeated again in a comment on my blog in August 2015 that the system is ‘evil’ and then opined that children are taken into care just because their parents smoke. He made no response to my challenge that this was clearly a nonsense assertion.

But it is not simply comments like that which raise concerns. Mr Hemming unfortunately does not restrict himself to comments. He takes action – and he has clear and active current links with others who, in my view, pose a significant danger to vulnerable children. [This has been edited to say simply ‘pose a risk’]

One such person is Ian Josephs. I provide a full discussion of his activities on this post, together with links to support my assertions.  [This has been entirely removed and replaced by ‘who assists mothers facing care proceedings to leave the UK]
In brief, it has now come to light that Marie Black, convicted of a number of serious child sex abuse offences in July 2015, was assisted by Ian Josephs to leave the UK rather than face probable care proceedings. [this sentence has been removed entirely]When challenged, Mr Josephs asserts that he is doing ‘nothing’ wrong, he would help ‘any’ mother facing the evil of forced adoption and he undertakes no prior risk assessment before handing out money, and undertakes no follow up once the parents leave the country. He estimates he has spent at least £30,000 and ‘assisted’ 200 families to date.

This network supporting ‘mums on the run’ is clearly supported by Mr Hemming, who writes about it on his own blog and appears on a video on Youtube with Mr Joseph. The links between Hemming, Joseph and Christopher Booker are also depressingly clear.

I have to give Mr Hemming recognition for bringing to light some important issues which were over looked. It is right, for example, to be concerned that recent cases involving children from other countries showed a widespread ignorance of our obligations under the Vienna convention. He is right to be concerned that the apparent promotion of adoption over other options for children in care, may have had a distorting impact on the practice of various professionals.

 

The impact of assertions that the system is ‘evil’

But why must he have this debate in the context that the family justice system is ‘evil’? How is this helping anyone? I am dealing with an increasing number of parent clients who are unable to engage with the system due to their massive amounts of distrust and fear which such irresponsible hyperbole promotes. It is beyond depressing and irritating to be constantly told I am a ‘legal aid loser’ with my ‘snout in the trough’. I have faced these and similar comments over many years from both Mr Hemming and Mr Josephs.

I remain concerned that positive outcomes from Mr Hemming’s campaigning were thus no more than a fortunate by-product and do not reflect his dedicated aim. That aim would appear rather to be to encourage partial and misinformed debate about the family justice system, including an appearance on national television in 2014 to tell parents to leave the country as they won’t get a fair trial.

This kind of comment coming from a serving MP – as he was at the time – can only have had massive impact on some very desperate and vulnerable people.

Desperate need for open and honest debate

We urgently need open, honest debate about what on earth is going on in child protection system. And I don’t think we will get that from Mr Hemming given his current associations and clearly expressed views about the ‘evil’ of the system – presumably that evil extending to all who work in it, including me.
But as ever, I am delighted to be proved wrong.

Forced Adoption: We need to talk about this

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

The Latvian Intervention

I can only hope that these discussions will assist to shine a light where it is needed – and not to encourage the rhetoric and clumsy propaganda of either side of the ‘forced adoption’ debate. Because that way we are all losers, but the children most of all. 

Owen Bowcott, writing in the Guardian in March 2015, described the situation:

Latvia’s parliament has formally complained to the House of Commons that children of Latvian descent are being illegally and forcibly adopted by British families.

The extraordinary intervention by foreign MPs in the way social services take children into care comes as the Baltic state has been granted permission to give evidence during an appeal over the case of a six-year-old girl who has been removed from her mother. It is due to be heard this month.

Other eastern European countries have also raised concerns about British adoption procedures, sometimes in cases where children have been born to mothers who have been trafficked into the country for the purposes of prostitution. In one case, Nigeria also expressed concern.

The child at the centre of Latvia’s intervention was first put into care in 2012 after being found at home alone, aged 21 months. Both her parents are Latvian; her father remains in their homeland.

The mother, according to an earlier judgment, had previously been found drunk, walking barefoot with her daughter in a buggy in the middle of a road in the south London borough of Merton.

The mother disputes the local authority’s assessments and the allegation that she was inebriated; she is now challenging the adoption of her child. Her lawyers have complained that the six-year-old was put in non-Russian speaking foster care which has delayed her language development.

Challenge in the courts

The mother has made various legal challenges to every stage of the adoption process. The Judgement of one such challenge in 2013 is here. Her most recent challenge has also failed. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is here.

Of note are the conditions in which the child was discovered at paragraph 6 of the judgment. This was described by a Latvian politician speaking on the Today programme on 13th August as a ‘mistake’ made by the mother and that ‘we all make them’.

I then heard a whimpering sound from a door directly in front of me. Once I had opened the door, I saw a room. In the left-hand corner of the room was a wardrobe and there were toys all over the floor. In the right-hand corner of the room against the window was a double bed that looked very soiled. On the wall beside the bed was a large area of damp and the wallpaper was coming away. There was a very strong and overpowering smell of urine and faeces in the room. I saw the child curled in an almost foetal position on the bed lying on a pillow. She sat up when we came into the room and she was holding an empty pink bottle. I went towards the child and she stood up and came towards me. I saw that her clothes were wet and that she was wearing a nappy that was falling off between her legs. Once in a different room, I could see that the child’s clothes were wet and she was shivering. The strong smell was coming from her and it was clear that she had not been changed or cleaned all day. I removed the child’s nappy to find dried and fresh faeces. The nappy was so swollen with urine that the child was unable to walk properly. There were also dried faeces on the child’s body and her skin was soaked in urine that had leaked from her nappy and gone through her clothes.

England and Wales needs to bring itself into line?

Part of the mother’s argument was that the law in England and Wales is simply ‘out of step’ with the rest of Europe:

“Most countries in Europe do not have a policy of “forced adoption.” As they do not, then the jurisdiction of England and Wales needs to be brought further in to line with the rest of Europe.”
This is elaborated by the mother in her skeleton argument with the assertion that if this case had been heard in another European jurisdiction, then a different solution would have been found. She says that other European countries have a greater understanding of familial ties, whereas in this country, she says, too little weight is attached to the child’s biological, national, ethnic and cultural inheritance. She says that this country should consider that it may be causing or permitting too many children to be adopted, and is out of line with the rest of Europe. Whilst accepting that there is a margin of appreciation, she says that this country is so far out of step with the rest of Europe that it needs to bring itself into line. She refers to the observations of Mostyn J in Re D (Special Guardianship Order) [2014] EWHC 3388 (Fam), [2015] 2 FLR 47, para 35, and to what Holman J said in A and B v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council [2014] EWFC 47.

The President responded to this argument at paragraph 80:

I am acutely conscious of the concerns voiced in many parts of Europe about the law and practice in England and Wales in relation to what is sometimes referred to as ‘forced adoption’ but which I prefer, and I think more accurately, to refer to as non-consensual adoption. Manifestations of these concerns are to be found both in the Borzova Report and in the letter from the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia to which I referred in paragraph 39 above. I refer also to the fact that at its meeting on 19-20 March 2014 the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament considered and declared admissible a petition by LB making allegations about the local authority’s behaviour in the present case. It would not, however, be appropriate for me to say anything more about that particular matter.
I refer in this connection to what I said in In re E (A Child) (Care Proceedings: European Dimension) Practice Note [2014] EWHC 6 (Fam), [2014] 1 WLR 2670, [2014] 2 FLR 151, paras 13-15:
“13 Leaving on one side altogether the circumstances of this particular case, there is a wider context that cannot be ignored. It is one of frequently voiced complaints that the courts of England and Wales are exorbitant in their exercise of the care jurisdiction over children from other European countries. There are specific complaints that the courts of England and Wales do not pay adequate heed to BIIR and that public authorities do not pay adequate heed to the Vienna Convention.
14 In the nature of things it is difficult to know to what extent such complaints are justified. What is clear, however, is that the number of care cases involving children from other European countries has risen sharply in recent years and that significant numbers of care cases now involve such children. It is timely therefore to draw the attention of practitioners, and indeed the courts, to certain steps which can, and I suggest from now on should, be taken with a view to ameliorating such concerns.
15 It would be idle to ignore the fact that these concerns are only exacerbated by the fact that the United Kingdom is unusual in Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent … Thus the outcome of care proceedings in England and Wales may be that a child who is a national of another European country is adopted by an English family notwithstanding the vigorous protests of the child’s non-English parents. No doubt, from our perspective that is in the best interests of the child – indeed, unless a judge is satisfied that it really is in the child’s best interests no such order can be made. But we need to recognise that the judicial and other State authorities in some countries that are members of the European Union and parties to the BIIR regime may take a very different view and may indeed look askance at our whole approach to such cases.”

The law of England and Wales is NOT incompatible with the ECHR

But what is very clear is that the UK laws are NOT incompatible with the ECHR. The extent of the UK’s violations of the ECHR is set out in this helpful infographic from Rights Info.  It is ironic to find ourselves criticised by, for example, Slovenia –  which has the highest number of violations of fundamental rights of all members of the Council of Europe. Only 3% of cases bought to the European Court involve the UK.

The President commented at paragraph 83 of his judgment:

The second point is that, whatever the concerns that are expressed elsewhere in Europe, there can be no suggestion that, in this regard, the domestic law of England and Wales is incompatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations or, specifically, with its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. There is nothing in the Strasbourg jurisprudence to suggest that our domestic law is, in this regard, incompatible with the Convention. For example, there is nothing in the various non-consensual adoption cases in which a challenge has been mounted, to suggest that our system is, as such, Convention non-compliant.

Sanchia Berg described the reaction of a Latvian politician:

Latvian MP Ignor Pimenov, said he found it hard to understand how a country “with high moral standards” could act in this way.
He believes this is not a unique case and said he had been contacted by several other Latvian women in the UK whose children had been taken into care.
“I can see there is something behind it… but families have been ruined,” he said.

What do we need to do?

Recent posts on this site and elsewhere have highlighted the current levels of ignorance about what actually happens here and abroad. What is not controversial is that there are children who need to be rescued from their parents and that there are state officials who either do not understand or misapply the law. The failures of the latter do not negate the need to protect children or render all parents blameless.

Do the mistakes or even deliberate malice of some individuals mean that there is a conspiracy to ‘snatch’ children from blameless, loving homes and ‘put them up’ for adoption? We have argued ‘no’. But there are many who disagree.

As a society we have an urgent need for better and more honest debate about this.

  • What support are families getting or should they be getting, to reduce the need for their children to be ‘rescued’ ?
  • When and how should the state intervene to carry out this ‘rescue’?
  • What should be the consequences when the state get it wrong? What redress could or should parents be given?

As Joshua Rozenberg commented in the Guardian:

This is not a case about whether the Latvians have been denied jurisdiction over one of their citizens. This is a case about what is in the best interests of a seven-year-old girl who was born in England and rescued from what a judge described as “appalling” neglect. Until she grows up, it must surely be better for CB to stay just where she is.

The current state of the debate, based on hyperbole, inaccuracy and massive distrust,  is unlikely to assist any process of reform, particularly not when politicians in other countries are now adding their critical voices and their refusal to accept the initial judgments of the UK courts.

There is a danger that the pendulum will swing again, back to focus on the ‘rights’ of parent, with the consequent loss of understanding or appreciation of what some children suffer. The ‘family’ is not always a haven of safety and security.

I can only hope that these discussions will assist to shine a light where it is needed – and not to encourage the rhetoric and clumsy propaganda of either side of the ‘forced adoption’ debate. Because that way we are all losers, but the children most of all.

EDIT – appeal to Supreme Court refused and Adoption Order made.

The judgment of Moylan J in October 2015 made an adoption order and brought these proceedings finally to a close. He set out at paragraph 8 the reasons why the Supreme Court had refused the mother’s application to appeal. They held her appeal had ‘no prospect of success’ commented that it relied upon the following as facts:

i. In March 2010 the mother left CB alone at home in a disgusting condition and Merton began to accommodate her. The circumstances of that incident were fully investigated by the District Judge in July 2012 who disbelieved the mother’s account. He decided that CB should be placed for adoption and that the mother’s consent be dispensed with.
ii. The mother brought two unsuccessful appeals against his orders. In the present proceedings the mother is not entitled to challenge the District Judge’s findings nor, by her addendum ground, the conclusion in the second appeal that Merton had been entitled to hold the adoption panel meeting on 9th March 2012.
iii. In view of her contentions that Merton was trying to meet a higher target for adoptions and was therefore “biased”, the mother should note that it was the court, not Merton, which took the decision to authorise the placement of CB for adoption.
iv. In May 2013, following the dismissal of the second appeal, CB was placed with the prospective adopters. So she has lived with them for almost 2½ years. She last saw the mother in March 2013.
v. The adopters would have understood that the path to CB’s adoption was clear. Instead there has been a prolonged challenge to her placement with them, supported with all the authority of the Latvian State. The pressure to date on the adopters, and indirectly on CB, is obvious.
vi. Moylan J accepted evidence that CB was at risk of significant emotional harm if removed from the adopters. It is not arguable that it would be in her interests to be removed from them at this late stage and to be placed wherever the Latvian Court might direct.
vii. The loss of CB’s national and cultural identity is a substantial factor and was rightly weighed by Moylan J. He held however that it was outweighed by other aspects of her welfare and this court would not disturb his assessment.

For what reasons do other countries allow adoption without consent?

We are grateful for this helpful summary of the position in other EU Member states from Claire Fenton – Glynn. See further her post, We are not alone: Every European country permits adoption without parental consent. 

ANNEX III: COMPARISON OF GROUNDS FOR ADOPTION WITHOUT CONSENT IN EU MEMBER STATES

Abandonment or Lack of Contact with Child

Deprivation of Parental Rights

Dispensing with Consent

  • AUSTRIA Whereabouts or residence unknown (6 months) Refusal of consent without justification
  • BELGIUM Parent has lost interest in the child, deprivation of parental rights; has compromised his or her health, safety or morals
  • BULGARIA Resident in a foster home or institutional care, and parent has not requested the termination or modification of this measure and the return of the child (6 months) Parents continuously fail to provide care for the child, do not provide financial support, or raise and educate the child in a manner harmful to its development.
  • CROATIA Abandoned the child, lost the right to parental care
  • CYPRUS Abandoned or neglected the child, neglect or persistent mistreatment. Unreasonably withholding consent
  • CZECH REPUBLIC Not manifested a proper interest (6 months) Not trying to rectify their family and social condition within the limits of their possibilities so that they can personally care of the child (6 months)
  • DENMARK Deprivation of parental rights If dispensing with consent it is of decisive importance to the welfare of the child
  • ENGLAND AND WALES If dispensing with consent is in the best interests of the child
  • ESTONIA Whereabouts or residence unknown (for “an extended period of time”) Deprivation of parental rights
  • FINLAND If the refusal is not sufficiently justified taking into account the best interests of the child
  • FRANCE Manifest disinterest (12 months) Risk of compromising the child’s health or morals Abusively withholding consent
  • GERMANY Shown through conduct to be indifferent to the child Persistently grossly violating parental duties Where it would be disproportionately disadvantageous to the child if the adoption did not take place
  • GREECE Deprivation of parental rights
  • HUNGARY Not contacting the child (12 months)
  • IRELAND Parents failed in their duty towards the child (12 months)
  • ITALY Abandonment: lacking the moral and material care of their parents
  • LATVIA Treat the child especially badly or does not care of the child or does not ensure the supervision of the child and it may endanger the physical, mental or moral development of the child.
  • LITHUANIA Parental authority restricted for an unlimited period
  • LUXEMBOURG Manifest disinterest (12 months) Lost their parental rights
  • MALTA Unjustifiably not having contact (18 months) Neglect or persistent mistreatment Unreasonably withholding consent
  • NETHERLANDS Have not, or hardly, lived together, abuse of parental authority or grossly neglected duties to care for the child
  • NORTHERN IRELAND Abandoned or neglected the child, persistently failed in duties towards the child, has persistently ill-treated, or seriously ill-treated the child, withholding consent unreasonably
  • POLAND Deprived of parental authority If refusal is clearly contrary to the child’s welfare
  • PORTUGAL Not showing interest (3 months) Deprived of parental authority
  • ROMANIA Abusively refusing to give consent, and adoption is in the child’s best interests
  • SCOTLAND Unable to satisfactorily discharge parental duties
  • SLOVAKIA Systematically did not manifest proper interest (6 months) Deprivation of parental rights
  • SLOVENIA Whereabouts or residence unknown (12 months) Parental rights have been take away
  • SPAIN Deprived of parental authority
  • SWEDEN Where a parent has no share in custody

We are not alone – every European country permits adoption without parental consent.

So we can see that England really is not alone in allowing adoption without parental consent – every country has some mechanism for doing so. What makes England unique, however, is the extent to which this mechanism is used.

We are grateful for this post by Claire Fenton-Glynn, author of ‘Adoption without consent’ which was presented to the European Parliament in July 2015. She was cited by the President of the Family Division in the case of Re N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015].

Claire Fenton-Glynn is a Lecturer in Law at Cambridge University. Her research lies in the field of human rights and the protection of children. She has published on a wide range of issues including  inter-country adoption, parental child abduction, and international surrogacy, as well as the right of the child to identity, and child participation in family law proceedings. At the core of this research is the way in which private international law instruments interact with human rights norms, and the protection of children and youth in regional and international instruments.

Are we alone in Europe?

It is a popular myth, perpetuated even by the upper echelons of the English judiciary, that England is alone in Europe in permitting adoption without parental consent.

In Re D (a Child) [2014], Mostyn J states that only 3 out of 28 European Countries permits ‘forced adoption’, while Lady Hale in Down Lisburn Health and Social Services Trust v H [2006] suggested that:

The United Kingdom is unusual amongst members of the Council of Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent. (Professor Triseliotis thought that only Portugal and perhaps one other European country allowed this.)

On the other hand, a 2015 report by the Council of Europe, stated that such adoptions are permitted in Andorra, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. However, it maintained that such adoptions were not possible in France, Greece, Luxembourg and Spain.

As such, there appears to be considerable confusion concerning the extent to which adoption without parental consent – pejoratively named “forced adoption” by some – is permitted throughout Europe.

 

Every country in Europe permits ‘forced adoption’

As this post will make clear, despite assertions to the contrary, EVERY country in Europe has a mechanism for permitting adoption without parental consent, in certain circumstances. (“Europe” can be defined in a number of different ways, but for these purposes, I mean all 47 Member States of the Council of Europe).

Three different mechanisms – abandonment, parental misconduct, child’s welfare

When looking at ways in which an adoption order can be made without parental consent, I have identified three different mechanisms that are used throughout Europe:

  • Where parental consent is not necessary because of abandonment or lack of interest in the child;
  • Where consent is not necessary because of parental misconduct or deprivation of parental rights;
  • Where consent is dispensed with because the parents have refused consent unjustifiably, or because it is in the child’s best interests.

Some States use a combination of these approaches, allowing consent to be dispensed with in a number of different ways.

 

Child has been abandoned

One mechanism for permitting adoption without parental consent is where a child who has been deemed abandoned by their parents. The precise grounds for not requiring consent in this area vary significantly, including:

  • abandonment (Albania, Cyprus, Italy);
  • not contacting the child (Hungary, Malta);
  • not showing interest (Portugal);
  • being manifestly disinterested (France);
  • not participating in his or her upbringing (Azerbaijan, Czech Republic);
  • parents’ whereabouts or residence is unknown (Austria, Estonia, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovenia, Switzerland).

Different time limits are also placed on authorities before they can dispense with consent for these reasons, ranging from:

  • three months (Montenegro, Portugal);
  • six months (Austria, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Ukraine);
  • twelve months (Albania, Andorra, Armenia, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovenia);
  • eighteen months (Malta);
  • “an extended period of time” (Estonia, Switzerland).

 

Parental misconduct

Parental consent is not necessary because parents have been deprived of parental rights or on the grounds of parental misconduct. The most common way in which consent is dispensed with is where the parents have been deprived of parental rights.

This is the case in:
• Armenia;
• Belgium;
• Croatia;
• Denmark;
• Estonia;
• Greece;
• Latvia;
• Liechtenstein;
• Lithuania;
• Luxembourg;
• Moldova;
• Monaco;
• Montenegro;
• Poland;
• Serbia;
• Slovakia;
• Slovenia;
• Spain;
• Russia.

Other countries do not require deprivation of parental rights for consent to be dispensed with, but instead focus on the specific conduct of the parents. This focus varies:

  • neglect or persistent mistreatment (Cyprus, Malta);
  • abuse of parental authority (Netherlands);
  • risk of compromising the child’s health or morals (France);
  • persistently grossly violating parental duties (Germany);
  • not caring for the child to any meaningful degree (Switzerland).

In some countries, the deprivation of rights must have lasted for a set period of time before an adoption can be granted, for example:

  • where the parents have been deprived of parental rights for longer than six months six months (Russia);
  • where the parents have been deprived of parental rights for a period of one year (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Slovenia);

Dispensing with parental consent by overriding an unjustified refusal, or in the child’s best interests

Another common mechanism for allowing adoption without consent is where the parents’ refusal is overridden in certain circumstances:

  • if the court adjudges the consent to be “unreasonably” withheld (Cyprus, Malta);
  •  “refusal without justification” (Austria, Liechtenstein);
  • if the refusal is “abusive”, (France) or consent is “abusively denied” (Greece)

However, in Romania, even if parents are deprived of parental rights, their consent is still needed.

 

A shift to a process based on the welfare of the child

On the other hand, some jurisdictions have shifted to a process that is more explicitly based on the welfare of the child. This position is in line with the requirement under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 21 of this Convention, which deals with adoption, is the only article under which the child’s rights must be the paramount, rather than merely the primary, consideration.

Such legislation can be seen in the following jurisdictions:

  • if the parents’ refusal of consent is clearly contradictory to the child’s welfare (Poland);
  • if the refusal is not sufficiently justified taking into account the best interests of the child (Finland);
  • if it is of decisive importance to the welfare of the child (Denmark);
  • if it is in the best interests of the child (Malta, England and Wales).

 

But what makes us unique is the extent to which we rely on ‘forced adoption’.

What does all this mean?

So we can see that England really is not alone in allowing adoption without parental consent – every country has some mechanism for doing so. What makes England unique, however, is the extent to which this mechanism is used.

Governmental statistics indicate that of the child placed for adoption in England in the year ending March 2014, 4,870 were completed without parental consent, with only 130 the result of voluntary placements on the part of the parents. This constituted 96% of all adoptions. (Department for Education, “Statistics: looked-after children” (30 September 2014))

Statistics in this area are difficult to come by from other jurisdictions, and in particular statistics disaggregated in this way are not easily accessible. Research indicates that the Netherlands only have about 20 adoptions per year in total (though it is unclear whether these are with or without parental consent), while France generally has around 700, however, 600 of these are as a result of an anonymous birth (“accouchement sous X”).

 

So what is happening to the children in other countries? And why are outcomes for children in care in the UK so bad?

So the question we really should be asking is: what is happening to all the children in these countries who would be placed in adoption in the England? Are they staying with their parents, with support from the authorities? Or are they placed in another form of alternative care? If so, what are the outcomes for this?

One of the difficulties we face in England is that the outcomes for children in state care are dire. In 2014, the Department of Education noted that looked after children continue to have poorer educational outcomes than other children, and 66.6% have special educational needs. In the year prior to March 2014, 5.2% of looked after children from 10-17 had been convicted or subject to a final warning or reprimand, while 3.5% of all looked after children had a substance misuse problem. Of children aged 16 and 17, the rate of conviction, final warning or reprimand raised to 10%, and the rate of substance abuse 10.8%. Statistics also showed that looked after children were also twice as likely to have been excluded from school, and around only 50.4% of looked after children had emotional and behavioural health that was considered “normal”, with 12.8% more “borderline”, and 36.7% “cause for concern”.

We can thus see that there is a tension between leaving children in public care, where the outcomes for children are simply unacceptable, and the placement of children for adoption without parental consent. There is no doubt that many children do not thrive in public care in England, and thus leaving them in this environment is detrimental to their welfare. The response has been to place more children in adoption, rather than to address the reasons why public care is so harmful, and seek better alternatives. In this respect, we need to look to other jurisdictions, and learn from each other. There are always going to be children who need to be separated from their families – the question is how best to provide long-term care for them that gives them stability, security, and all of life’s chances. Currently, we are not achieving this.

 

Further reading

Information on comparative systems for adoption without consent can be found in the following report for the European Parliament

Further comparative information concerning other areas of adoption law can be found in: Claire Fenton-Glynn, Children’s Rights in Intercountry Adoption: A European Perspective. 

Helping parents leave the jurisdiction

What happens if you don’t know the whole story… or you don’t care? The links between Hemming, Booker and Josephs.

“Any person who embraces one party’s version of events and treats it as the whole truth is making a serious mistake. In most family cases the version given by one side is partial and tendentious; on any view it does not give the other side. The only sensible course is to see what the court says in a judgment on all the evidence”.  Sir Nicholas Wall

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

On the 27th July 2015 the BBC reported that Marie Black had been found guilty of child sex abuse charges. EDIT – and on May 13th 2016 her application to appeal against her conviction was dismissed. 

Marie Black, 34, of Norwich, stood trial with nine others, including five women, at Norwich Crown Court. Black denied 26 charges. A jury found her guilty of all but three counts.
She was convicted of offences including rape and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. Two men were found guilty of child sex abuse and another woman was found guilty of assault.
Michael Rogers, 53, from Romford, was found guilty of 14 counts including cruelty, rape and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. Jason Adams, 43, from Norwich, was convicted of 13 similar counts. Carol Stadler, 60, from Atkinson Close, Bowthorpe, Norwich, was found guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm but cleared of nine other charges, including serious sexual assaults.

Six other defendants were cleared of all charges.

Allegations were first made about Marie Black in 2010. Further evidence was available in 2012 and she was arrested in 2013.

Christopher Booker and Marie Black

But this is not the first time Marie Black’s name has appeared in the media. On 7th July 2012 Christopher Booker wrote about her in an article in the Telegraph. Marie Black and her partner had ‘fled’ to France to give birth to their daughter after being under investigation by Norfolk Social Services. Norfolk wanted to apply for a care order for their child but the court ruled that the child was habitually resident in France and therefore the Norfolk LA had no jurisdiction. Christopher Booker commented:

This is a landmark case which should give cheer to those scores of parents who flee abroad for the birth of children threatened with seizure by our social workers. For this reason, perhaps the British taxpayer’s expenditure on this episode – estimated at £250,000 or more – was not entirely wasted.

He wrote about her again in 2013 – ‘Another couple flee to France only to have their baby taken away’. This was to report on another parent who had successfully left the jurisdiction to escape care proceedings and relied on the Marie Black case as precedent.  Christopher Booker referred to the ‘happy ending’ for Marie Black and her child and applauded the help she had been able to give another parent in the same position:

The mother had already been in touch with Marie Black and Brendan Fleming (although there is still no order from a British court to authorise all that has happened). When the couple appeared in a French court to contest the demand that their baby be deported, the judge was shown a statement citing the Marie Black judgment, making clear that, since Britain had no jurisdiction over the child, deporting her would be illegal. The judge, seemingly out of her depth, adjourned the case, suggesting that it should be heard by a more senior judge in three weeks’ time. We may hope that the new judge can recognise that the law is clear, and that the British authorities had no legal right to arrange what amounted to an act of kidnapping.

But the ending for Marie Black (and presumably her child) we now know was very far from happy. She has been convicted on 23 charges of serious child sexual abuse, including rape.

 

Encouraging and supporting parents to leave the jurisdiction

Christopher Booker is sadly not alone in simply accepting uncritically any complaint made by parents about the child protection system. He is often supported by the former MP John Hemming and Ian Josephs.

John Hemming has also been subject to serious judicial criticism . Of interest is also this article by Jonathan Gornall in 2007 which explains why Hemming first became interested in ‘waging a war’ on children’s services. 

Booker goes rather further than simple uncritical acceptance but instead often ignores published judgments and established facts when writing his articles.

And its not just Christopher Booker’s reporting about the family justice system which is criticised. As George Monbiot commented in the Guardian in May 2011

I have begun to wonder whether there’s a single subject Booker has tackled in recent years which he has not distorted out of all recognition. For how much longer can this go on?

Sadly for all of us, its still going on.

Its one matter to simply write things that are stupid and wrong. It is another, and more dangerous matter, to encourage and even pay for parents to leave the UK, rather than face investigation into the quality of their parenting. I don’t know if Christopher Booker has ever given a parent money to fund leaving the jurisdiction – but he certainly associates with and is sympathetic to those who do.

He has apparently commented on the criminal trial of Marie Black in May 2015 – making his disdain for the criminal process clear and likening this case to  ‘crazy’ allegations of ritual abuse in previous cases which were like an ‘epidemic of collective hysteria’. 

 

The ‘mums on the run’ network – giving money to parents

It is clear that there is a network of people who act to help these parents ‘flee’ the UK.  This website describes it in these terms (and then goes on to discuss articles written by Christopher Booker):

The situation can be stated in a very simple manner. There is now a network of Good Samaritans spanning six countries. The countries are the UK, Ireland, Belgium, France, Spain and Cyprus. Parents, mainly mothers, are fleeing with children and heavily pregnant women and teenaged girls are fleeing to have their children born in a foreign country where their citizenship will make it difficult if not impossible for the British authorities to bring them back for forced adoption.

Now for the very simple bit. The hard-pressed volunteers in the network are seeing no Irish or continental European parents and none from Cyprus. All the fleeing parents are British, desperate to escape from UK Social Services, now commonly referred to as the ‘SS’.

We also know that some in the network put their money where their mouth is. One who openly admits giving cash to parents to help them leave the country, is Ian Josephs. He is based in Monaco and is the author of the infamous ‘ten Golden Rules’ which advises parents not to co-operate with social workers and to think very carefully before reporting even sexual abuse of your children.

BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts programme in January 2014 ‘Forced Adoption and the Mums on the Run’ examined the network of people helping parents leave the UK rather than face investigation.

Mr Josephs was interviewed and confirmed that he has spent about £30,000 helping parents and he did not conduct any kind of risk assessment about the danger these parents might pose to their children. An article in the Daily Mirror in July 2014 confirmed this figure and said it involved 200 families.

Ian Josephs helped Marie Black leave the UK. She wrote to him from France. 

Hi Ian,

We hope you are well.

Attached is a recent photo for you of L, she will be 10 months old this thursday and is trying to walk already! She is so happy and laughs so much. We feel lucky everyday to have L home with us and we are looking forward to her 1st Christmas.

We get on well with the social worker here and she took us swimming last week and this week will be a baby group. She is also looking into if she knows anyone who can help us with French lessons too.

She commented on how happy L is! We have even been to see Mr Mondin the manager of social services who helped us in Court with a shining report and he has a photo of L on his desk, he was so happy to see us all together last week.

Thank you again in our rescue operation!

Best wishes

Marie, Joe & L

No risk assessment before they leave, no follow up after they’ve gone.

In the interview with the Mirror,  Josephs claims he ‘ploughs through’ ‘piles of documents’ before agreeing to help but other than that he is silent on what criteria he uses to judge whether or not it is safe to send these parents out of the country. He is reported as saying:

I know what I do is controversial. People ask how I know the people I’ve helped don’t go on to do something wicked, but my reply is that even killers are entitled to lawyers. These woman are entitled to a fair chance to keep their children if they have not been convicted of any crime of cruelty and aren’t on drink or drugs.

Not only is no or no adequate risk assessment conducted before giving these parents money, there is no formal follow up or investigation as to how their children fare once they leave the jurisdiction. Sadly, the poll conducted by the Daily Mirror attached to its interview with Ian Josephs, shows 66% of those responding agreed it was right to help ‘pregnant mums’ leave the UK. So its not only Christopher Booker who is willing to uncritically accept reports of a ‘happy ending’.

Ian Josephs later said he does ‘not care’ if the parents have done anything to justify intervention. Because forced adoption is wrong and that justifies his actions. ‘ I don’t care who it is. They have every right to escape’. See this video from 6 mins 50 seconds.

 

Connections between Booker, Josephs and Hemming

Ian Josephs has close connections with both Christopher Booker and the former MP John Hemming, in their self appointed roles as critics of the child protection system and champions of its many alleged victims.

For example:

  • both Booker and Josephs appeared at a ‘Stop Forced Adoption Conference‘ in Birmingham in December 2012, together with Brendan Fleming, the solicitor who represented Marie Black with regard her daughter.
  • There is cross fertilisation from Josephs’ website to Booker’s articles.
  • Also see this article.
  • See this post from Head of Legal in 2013, discussing the joint activities of Booker and Hemming around the ‘forced C-section case’.
  • John Hemming was interviewed for the January 2014 Panorama documentary ‘I want my baby back’ and there advised parents to leave the jurisdiction as they wouldn’t get a fair hearing in the UK. He continues to promote ‘mums on the run’ on his blog – see this post from July 2015. [EDIT – JH now appears to have removed this blog post]
  • See the Justice For Families e-conference with John Hemming and Ian Josephs on 3rd September 2014, ‘Refugees from the UK’. Brian Rothery claims one family arrives in Ireland every week.

 

It’s not always a ‘happy ending’

However, as the Marie Black case demonstrates, it is naive and dangerous to simply take at face value a parent’s assertions that they are nothing but the ‘victims’ of the corrupt family courts. Marie Black has been tried and convicted in a criminal court, on the criminal standard of proof and found guilty by a jury of her peers  – this is just what Ian Josephs has been campaigning for, that no parent should lose their child without a criminal conviction. He said to the Daily Mail in March 2012 

 ‘It’s time the criminal rules of justice applied in the family courts. We need parents to be considered innocent until proven guilty and also be free to talk about what is happening in those courts without being thrown into jail.

So presumably Marie Black would not now qualify for his help to leave the country.

Just how many more ‘unhappy endings’ are out there? If Josephs has paid 200 parents to leave the UK, just how many dangerous parents have been helped to escape scrutiny in this way? We don’t know, because he doesn’t care to find out.

How much longer are Booker, Hemming and Josephs going to be permitted to carry on like this? Just what kind of tragedy will it take to shine a light on their activities?

Apparently Christopher Booker will be writing about the Marie Black case in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph. It will be interesting to see what he says and how – if at all – he will try to  justify his role in these events.

If he isn’t actually handing over cash to parents to get them out of the country, with every dangerously false and inaccurate article he writes he is certainly encouraging and supporting those who do.

 

EDIT Sunday 2nd August – there is no article from Christopher Booker in today’s Sunday Telegraph. Further speculation is probably unhelpful given that I am not clear if Marie Black intends to appeal against her conviction. I hope it is a safe conviction. If its not safe I hope it is overturned speedily.

BUT whether the conviction stands or falls, the activities of Booker, Hemming and Josephs remain open to serious criticism. If Marie Black is not a child sex offender, the risk remains that other parents might be. And they are being supported to leave the country with their children – not merely with encouraging words in a newspaper, but with cold, hard cash.

I hope I am not alone in finding this both appalling and dangerous.

EDIT Sunday 9th August 2015 Christopher Booker has now commented in more general terms.

EDIT September 28th 2015. Marie Black is sentenced to a minimum term of 24 years.

EDIT December 4th 2015 – for the latest wilfully misreported case, see this blog post by suesspiciousminds about the Latvian family ‘helped to flee’. Christopher Booker reports the child’s injuries as a ‘slight mark’ whereas in fact they were more akin to a rope burn, the child said his father did it. It’s ironic that Josephs continually asserts that only parents who are convicted in a criminal court should lose their children; but he helps them leave the country before they can be charged with any criminal offence.

What’s the difference between adoption and fostering?

But why have adoption at all? What is wrong with fostering? Then mistakes can be put right later.

A child in foster care will be placed with parents’ consent under section 20 of the Children Act or because a care order was made. The parents will retain their parental responsibility. Foster carers are trained professionals who are not providing a ‘family’ for a child in the same way adoptive parents would. That is the key distinction between adoption and fostering. 

In the case of Re V [2013]  the Court of Appeal decided that a Judge was wrong to agree that long term fostering would best meet the child’s needs. The Court of Appeal set out the key differences between the adoption and long term fostering.

  • Adoption makes the child a permanent part of the adoptive family to which he or she fully belongs.
  • Once an adoption order is made, it is made for all time.
  • Contact arrangements are different between fostered and adopted children. LA has a duty to allow reasonable contact with a child in care.
  • An adopted child is not subject to any further LA intervention and can live ‘normal’ family life without any ‘stigma’ of being child in care.

It is clear that adoption is currently seen and has been seen for some time by our domestic courts as the ‘gold standard’ of outcomes for children.  But this isn’t a view shared by all – we certainly seem to be out of step with the rest of Europe.

Mostyn J commented in Re D (a Child) [2014]

The proposition of the merits of adoption is advanced almost as a truism but if it is a truism it is interesting to speculate why only three out of 28 European Union countries allow forced or non-consensual adoption. One might ask: why are we so out of step with the rest of Europe? One might have thought if it was obvious that forced adoption was the gold standard the rest of Europe would have hastened to have adopted it. (NB However, Mostyn J has got this wrong – every European country permits adoption without the parents’ consent – see this post from the Transparency Project).

 

Critics of the current system further ask why there needs to be adoption at all, why can’t children go into foster care so they can return to their parents if it is later found that they shouldn’t have been removed from home in the first place or if the parents can make changes to the way they parent?

The problem that we have is the near universal agreement from child psychologists and other experts about the crucial importance to a child of finding a permanent home and being able to become securely attached to his or her adult carers. You can read here about some of the problems children face if they can’t develop a secure attachment to their adult carers.

If a child has been away from his or her birth parents for many months or even years and particularly if that child has now formed a secure attachment to an adoptive family, there is serious concern about the emotional harm that would be done to the child if he or she was removed from the adoptive family to return to the birth family.

Suggestions have been made that the birth families and adoptive families could ‘parent together’ in such cases but that would require a degree of emotional maturity and an ability to put bitterness and recrimination to one side, which may be beyond most people’s abilities.

This explains why very sadly, the Websters weren’t able to get their children back, despite a court concluding that they ‘probably’ were the victims of a miscarriage of justice because their child’s injuries may have been due to scurvy, but this wasn’t recognised at the time.

However, the Council of Europe reported in 2015 about different European countries and their attitudes to adoption and commented unfavourably about the UK’s refusal to reverse adoption orders in such circumstances; para 74:

My attention has been drawn to a handful of cases which are extremely tragic and concern miscarriages of justice. In several of these cases, an underlying medical condition of the child such as brittle- bone-disease or rickets was overlooked, and the children were placed for adoption (without parental consent). The tragedy is that even when the parents finally win in court, and can prove their innocence, they cannot get their children back, because a flaw in the English/Welsh legal system means that adoption orders cannot be reversed in any circumstances – in a misunderstanding of the “best interest of the child” who actually has a right to return to his/her birth family.

What does seem to be very clear is that we need more and better consideration of issues such as contact with birth families after an adoption order is made;  see Re W [2016] and the comments of McFarlane LJ in the Bridget Lindley Memorial lecture October 2016 (mentioned below).

The ‘push’ for adoption.

There are serious concerns that an ideological ‘push’ for adoption is masking proper consideration of statistical trends and that adoption is being over promoted as the best outcome for children. An example of how the best interests of the child got over looked in a quest to find her an adoptive placement, see this case involving the London Borough of Hillingdon. Family Law Week reported:

The LGO found that during her time in care the council has spent two years looking for a family to adopt the girl, who has autism and other developmental delays, but none was found. She has been living with her current foster family since May 2011. The council asked the current foster carers to become special guardians, which would mean a more permanent arrangement, but the family told social workers they would need the extra long-term support they would receive if she remained a looked after child, and declined to become special guardians.

Because of the family’s refusal social workers carried on looking for an alternative permanent family, despite all evidence that this was not in her best interest. This uncertainty about her future has caused the girl significant stress and anxiety, damaging her welfare, her emotional wellbeing and her ability to learn.

The girl’s advocate contacted the LGO complaining that the council was not listening to the wishes of the girl to stay with her foster family.

The Adoption Leadership Board was concerned by the significant reduction in the last 12 months of placement orders made and decisions by LAs to pursue plans for adoption. Lucy Reed discusses this in her Pink Tape blog:

So what sort of beast is the Adoption Leadership Board? Well, it’s terms of reference are here and are pretty unobjectionable. It is not a body designed to promote adoption as an end in itself : only for those children for whom it is the “best way of achieving permanence”. It is not “adoption is a good thing” dot com. And yet…it strikes me that the title “Adoption Leadership Board” somewhat loses the nuance of the terms of reference and tends towards the idea that adoption is a good generally to be promoted. And the impression created is important. Coupled with the plain assumption that a fall in adoption numbers must be “a bad thing” the impression ain’t great. If you wanted to feed the “adoption targets” / “babies for sale” conspiracy theories this would be a good starting point.

 

Further reading

 

 

What do people mean when they talk about Emotional Abuse?

Concerns about ’emotional abuse’ play a big part in some people’s anxieties about how the current child protection system operates. Some worry it is too nebulous or uncertain a concept, or it isn’t serious enough to justify removing a child from parents who love him. Some go as far to say that only a criminal conviction for assaulting a child should be reason to remove.

We want to try and dispel some of the myths and fears about ’emotional abuse’ and explain why it is so serious and can be so damaging. Here, an abuse survivor gives her view about the meaning of ’emotional abuse’, the common ways we try to deny it is happening and why it so important to protect children from it.

 

Myth Busting about Emotional Abuse

Something that I was really shocked to learn recently is that hardly anybody has a clue about what emotional/psychological abuse is. Unfortunately, many people are enough powerful to be given space on newspapers and media outlets and they keep spouting nonsense about the matter. Now…. As a child abuse survivor, who stood emotional abuse for years in my family, I will try to bust a few myths and wrong assumptions about it. I am, of course, no journalist or psychiatrist so I will also quote other websites that clearly explained it better than I ever could. I will start with myth busting and then I will list a few things that constitute emotional abuse.

Disclaimer: I use the pronoun ‘he’ all through the article and it is just for convenience. I know very well that women/mothers can be abusive too.

 

Emotional abuse is always better than being physically abused.

No. “Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching,” or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones” (Engel, 1992, p. 10). I’ve really dim memories about my father beating me up, however it happened maybe four times in twenty years. It is not even something that can hurt you once the physical injuries are gone. Emotional scars can. They’re still with me at this day, the abuse lasted nearly twenty years, so be sure I do fully remember it.

 

Emotional abuse doesn’t exist and surely it is not something that you can report to police.

This is an assumption I often came across through all my life. Emotional and psychological abuse are classified as Domestic Violence in England and Wales (DA, Domestic Abuse in Scotland), yet you can’t report the abuser to police if what you’re getting is just emotional abuse. Given that it is not considered something you can get prosecuted for, many people assume it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t work that way. As reported in Women’s Aid website “One problem is that the criminal prosecution process focuses on incidents and ignore the fact that domestic violence involves a pattern of ongoing and controlling behaviour.  The criminal law can also only rarely provide a remedy for emotional abuse – which can also have a serious and lasting impact on a woman or child’s sense well-being and autonomy.”

 

Emotional Abuse is shouting

It can include shouting, but not necessarily. The most skilled abusers can abuse without ever rising their voice. It is what they say that counts, not how loud they say it.

 

I was abused by my husband/boyfriend/partner but children were in another room.

That is an excuse I often heard from my mum and it is pitiful. I lost count of how many times I told her we were not stupid and that her crying and being depressed and sad made us upset too. If a child loves his/her mother, it is quite natural that you are participating to her grief and sorrow and whatever is going on in other rooms. And if one of your parents is getting abuse, unless they are made of stone, it will show and children will see. The assumption “they don’t see, they don’t understand” makes your children feel stupid and encouraged to make assumptions on their own about what happened behind closed doors. DON’T do it, ever.

 

 I can’t be emotionally abused, he never hit me, assaulted or raped me

This is the most famous myth about emotional abuse. Whilst if you get hit or assaulted or raped you are also emotionally abused, it is not true the opposite. You can be emotionally abused although you’ve never been hit/assaulted/raped.

 

He is just depressed/bipolar/a mental health patient, he is not an abuser. We’ll solve it together.

Many people associates ‘abuse’ with ‘mental illness’. The most surprising thing is that usually they don’t go hand in hand at all. Of course, your abuser can also be mentally ill, but to say that all abusers are mentally ill is wrong. It is, very often, true the opposite… indeed many abusers are totally sane! Quoting L. Bancroft here “Their value system is unhealthy, not their psychology. An abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong” (‘Why does he do that?’ by Lundy Bancroft. Its price is cheap and it is an endless source of advice and information, buy it or borrow it if you can. It was an eye opening experience, believe me).

 

He is not well but he is doing everything in his power to get well.

I’ve very bad news for you. Only a few abusers ever recover, because to go through a counselling program that would improve their behaviour also means they’ve to admit they abused someone. That is unlikely to happen. Women like to think they can change their partners as well as children who think they can change their parents’ behaviour towards them. This is what is meant when you hear “risk of emotional harm”. The majority of women think that once the ‘issue’ of abuse is solved, even temporarily, everything will go well. It is just delusion. According to several psychiatrists and also Bancroft, “the majority of abusive men do NOT make deep and lasting changes even in a high-quality abuser program”. If your partner/husband is abusive and mentally ill, DO keep in mind they can be intertwined but if he gets treatment for his disease doesn’t automatically mean he won’t be abusive anymore.

 

He’s abusing me because he loves me. It is his way of loving me.

No, no and then.. NO! He is abusing you because he is angry, controlling and well… an abuser! Abuse is NOT love. It took me forty years to understand that but I’m now 200% sure that any loving relationship is an abuse-free one. “Many people reserve their best behaviour and kindest treatment for their loved ones, including their partners. Should we accept the idea that these people feel love less strongly, or have less passion, than an abuser does? Nonsense.” (L. Bancroft 2002)